Field at Pine Hills North named after farm family

After months of debate, the Andover City Council decided that its new 40-acre youth athletic complex set to fully open in 2015 will be called Pine Hills North.

It took some time and compromise to come up with a name for this property on the northeast corner of 161st Avenue and Tulip Street, councilmembers said.

The most southern of three new fields for youth football, lacrosse and soccer within Pine Hills North will be called Bennett Field in honor of Corrine and Royce Bennett, who used to farm this property. Submitted photo

The most southern of three new fields for youth football, lacrosse and soccer within Pine Hills North will be called Bennett Field in honor of Corrine and Royce Bennett, who used to farm this property. Submitted photo

In the end, Pine Hills North was chosen because the Andover Park and Recreation Commission felt it would be easier for people to locate considering there has been a Pine Hills Park on the southeast corner for many years. This existing park will be renamed Pine Hills South Park.

To pay homage to history, the south field will be named Bennett Field in honor of the family who farmed this property. The two fields to the north will be named Grow East Field and Grow West Field to recognize that the city of Andover was Grow Township before 1974. All fields could be used for youth football, soccer and lacrosse.

Councilmember Mike Knight was vocal throughout the process of trying to find a person to name the park after such as a veteran, but said this was the best compromise.

“It’s hard to come up with a name that does the job,” Knight said.

Bennett Field

Bonnie Dehn, 65, remembers her parents Royce and Corrine Bennett planting potatoes, sweet corn, melons and squash at different times in the area where the south athletic field is that is now named after them.

“All of us kids think that is awesome,” Dehn said of the city naming a field after her parents.

The old farm was actually named Pine Ridge Farm, so the park name in a way does honor its memory, she said.

Bonnie Dehn stands by the south field that will be named Bennett Field in honor of her parents Royce and Corrine. Photo by Eric Hagen

Bonnie Dehn stands by the south field that will be named Bennett Field in honor of her parents Royce and Corrine. Photo by Eric Hagen

“Progress is progress, but sometimes the history is forgotten. This will leave a memory for a long time,” Dehn said.

The old homes that Dehn grew up in are gone, but as she trudged through the deep snow the morning of Saturday, April 5 to tour the property, she laughed and had a big smile as she recalled growing up on this farm.

Dehn is the oldest of three daughters. She also has a brother.

Their father had one strict rule for his daughters when they got to dating age. Anybody that wanted to date his daughters had to help him load his truck with produce to take to a farmers’ market. If they did not help, they were not worthy to date his girls.

“You could see it in his face. He had daughters. That’s why he had milk cows. He kept them busy in the morning and kept them busy at night, so they were too tired to date,” Dehn said with a laugh.

Royce bought 80 acres of mostly pasture land in 1950 and turned it into the Pine Ridge Farm.

The first home they built had no central heating system, but had a parlor stove to heat the living room. This did not help when Dehn’s mother wanted to dry clothes in the winter. The clothes would often freeze overnight.

She learned to cook on the stove in this old home. In her adult life, she has written two cookbooks and is working on another featuring stories from the old farm and recipes she learned as a child.

Her father was a big conservationist. Dehn can still stand up beside some well-grown evergreen trees today that she helped plant over 50 years ago. She has seen a bald eagle’s nest, turkeys and sandhill cranes on the property. Many white pines, Norway spruce and Scotch pines are still around. Some of the evergreen trees were lost when the three fields were constructed.

Near the trees is an area where Dehn loves to plant rhubarb.

In the early 1960s, Royce installed a 12-inch diameter irrigation well close to 500 feet down. It was a big investment that paid off for the farm, and Dehn said the city will be able to use this same well to water the new fields.

A steep slope on the west side of the property was a great sledding hill for the Bennett children. They had good runner sleds, not plastic ones, so they could go really fast, she said.

“All the kids in the neighborhood came over to our hill because it was such a good sledding hill,” Dehn said. “Dad had a silo filler at the bottom of the hill. The biggest challenge was to make sure you wouldn’t run into that.”

Groves of trees naturally grew on the hill over time. A second phase of the park project includes using this as a sledding hill, so Dehn imagines many of these trees will have to be cleared.

Not too far away from this sledding hill could be a disc golf course through the woods and a trail that would go next to a wetland. The second phase also includes the potential for a concession stand and bathrooms, basketball and volleyball courts, playground, park pavilion and a garage for public works equipment.

It’s not too hard for Dehn to visit the property when she wants because the 102-acre Dehn’s Garden farm that she and her husband Bob own is just to the north of this new city athletic complex. The property had initially been sold to Meadow Creek Christian School in 2002 to pay Corrine’s medical bills before she passed away that year at the age of 75 from heart disease. Royce also died of heart disease in 1994 when he was 69 years old. The school sold the 40 acres to the city of Andover a couple of years ago so it could focus on a site in Ramsey for a new school building.

This change is causing her family to discuss the future of their farm. Bonnie and Bob’s two daughters are in their mid-30s still work on the farm, but they will have to decide whether they would eventually want to buy the farm or if it should be sold. Dehn said you would have to go another 75 miles away from the metro area to find large enough tracts of farmland with good soils.

As she looked over the fields with light poles towering over it for games to be played at night, Dehn commented, “It looks different, but at the same time I’m proud of what the city has put into it. It’s not going to be another tract of housing. I realize we need housing, but there’s need for open spaces too.”

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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